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War Economy


In spite of having unrestricted access to the wide range of War History Branch narratives, the completion of this volume has involved more than four years of intensive research work.

The war history narratives vary greatly in the thoroughness with which they cover their subjects. The Ministry of Works produced a splendidly comprehensive set of narratives which outshine all others. In any other emergency they will provide an excellent set of reference volumes for those responsible for public works. Some other Departments did reasonably well, but some produced poor efforts, and a few, including the Treasury,1 produced nothing at all. The many gaps in the narratives have had to be filled in from a variety of other sources. However, in a number of cases the necessary information was not known at the time, or, because it was not then recorded, is now irretrievably lost.

The inadequacies of some of the factual records available during the war must have added to the difficulties of policy-makers and administrators then to an even greater extent than they now hinder the historian who tries to record and assess the significance of wartime events. For example, during the war, manpower policy had to be developed without any clear picture of trends in the industrial distribution of the labour force. Only the 1926 and 1936 censuses were then available. Again, no satisfactory subdivision of foreign exchange transactions was made during the war, in spite of the assistance it would have been for external economic policy. It is quite impossible to reconstruct one now.

The Department of Industries and Commerce, which handled most of the crucial supply arrangements, failed to keep running accounts of the quantitative effect of its decisions. Later it allowed considerable portions of the inadequate records it did have to be lost, when many of its wartime files were indiscriminately destroyed. Thus the fruits of experience in this sphere were only partially available during the war, and cannot be comprehensively recorded now to assist those who may be responsible for supply in any future state of emergency.

1 The lack of a Treasury narrative has added considerably to the difficulties of producing an economic war history. War History Branch file I.A. 181/9/1 reveals that repeated attempts were made to have one prepared.

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While the time which elapsed before this volume was written has given a better broad perspective to the view of the war effort, it has added considerably to the difficulties in clarifying the more blurred parts of the picture. As the chapters were written, it has fallen to the lot of my research worker, Mr S. G. Elmer, to plough laboriously through limitless periodicals, newspapers and reports in search of the answers to several thousand queries on doubtful points. Most of them he has ultimately found. Between us we have skimped nothing. As far as we can make it so, the record is complete.

Though a number of other newspapers are mentioned, most of the newspaper references in this volume are from two Wellington dailies, the Dominion and the Evening Post. The files of both these papers for all the war years were made available by the Wellington Public Library and were combed through by Mr Elmer. I thank the Library staff for this and many other courtesies. The staffs of the General Assembly Library and the Alexander Turnbull Library have also given valuable assistance.

All volumes of Hansard for the war years, the annual reports of all relevant Government Departments and a variety of periodicals were read. The 1946 report of the National Employment Service was particularly valuable for its comprehensive summary of wartime manpower activities.

One benefit of being late in the field was that economic war histories were already available from other countries, and a number of valuable references are listed below. Naturally, few of these overseas volumes throw light on the New Zealand internal economy in war, nor do economic experiences here seem to have paralleled those in any other belligerent country. Nevertheless, the record of external relationships has been filled out from these volumes, and often the internal economic effects they record for other countries have been compared with New Zealand experience.

Valuable information and references have been received from Mr J. S. Welply of the Department of Statistics, Mr R. A. Barber, Librarian, Army Department, and Captain F. Kent Loomis, acting Director of Naval History, Washington, D.C.

Wherever possible, data drawn from the various reference works has been tested against other information. This has been time-consuming, but, since by this means a number of statements made during and after the war have been revealed to be ill-founded,1 it should add considerably to the value of the volume as a factual record.

Of the New Zealand works, most valuable has been the companion volume to this one, Political and External Affairs, by Professor F. L. W. Wood. I have kept it by me all the time, and I hope that, as a result, the two volumes intermesh as they should do.

1 As noted, where appropriate, in the text.